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How to Draw Your Children Back to the Church – A Reflection on a Wonderful New Resource

November 19, 2015

blog11-19One of the more common heartaches people express to me is that their adult children no longer attend Mass or have any relationship with the Church. Many of these parents sent their children to Catholic School and brought them to Mass every week. Yet despite these efforts, many of these young adults were drawn away from the Church by the lure of the secular world, often during their college years or shortly thereafter.

It was typically not some dramatic event or one particular teaching that caused them to leave the Church; they just drifted away. Perhaps it was that going to college or graduating meant that they moved out of familiar patterns. Perhaps it was a new schedule or the need to work on Sundays. But regardless of the reason, they started skipping Mass. One week missed led to several weeks, then months, and then years. And so they drifted, with the currents of the world, away from the Church and the Sacraments.

During the years away, they may have found “reasons” that they don’t like the Church or feel connected to her. Perhaps they disagree with a certain teaching or practice. But the initial problem was more likely just a drifting of sorts, which then became alienation fueled by a world hostile to our teachings.

So what are parents to do? Nagging can be counterproductive. Admonitions that the Church considers missing Mass a mortal sin (and we do) seem too self-referential to many college graduates, who were raised in a culture that insists on the right of every individual to craft a “god” on his own terms (we used to call that idolatry). For most moderns, the right to craft a “god of my own understanding” or to discover the “god within” is indisputable.

Even to many who still have some semblance of faith, sectarian religion and dogmas are anathema, considered too rigid. It is axiomatic for many who call themselves “spiritual” to think that they have a perfect right to craft their own god and their own truth in their own way.

But this is the only world that most young adults have ever known. They never experienced the era of denominations and of high Church attendance that some of us older folks did. Quoting Scripture and the Catechism to them has little impact. Speaking of rules or commandments is often dismissed as scolding and being unkind.

So again, what are parents to do? I wrote earlier this week about using the Socratic Method, and surely that is a good model. It relies on posing questions that seek to engage the person to explore some of his own premises. For example a parent might ask, “Why don’t you go to Church?” Suppose the response is, “I just don’t get anything out of it” One might then ask, “What do you want to get out of it? What are you looking for?” Or one could follow up by asking, “What do you think the purpose of Mass or going to Church is? How do you see it?” And one continues along these lines, keeping sermonizing to a minimum. One listens, but seeks to engage the adult child in exploring his own views to determine if they are valid.

Thanks be to God, a new and thorough treatment of how to get your children back to the Church has just been published by Brandon Vogt: Return: How to Draw Your Child Back to Church. It examines all the usual scenarios, from drifters to dissenters, from the disaffected to the merely disconnected. There are print, online, and video components to assist in developing a “game plan” that may need to extend over a long period of time.

At the heart of the parents’ “game plan” must surely be their own witness of what going to Mass, receiving the Sacraments, praying, and Christian fellowship have done for them. So in his book, Brandon helps parents to clarify and craft their own witness. He also helps prepare them to respond to some of the more common reasons people provide for having left the Church and the practice of the faith. He discusses the twenty biggest objections to Catholicism. In effect, he advises the parents to stop pushing and start drawing their adult children back to Mass.

I hope you will find the book (and other resources) as encouraging and helpful as I did. Most of us who are trying to draw others back to the Church need a long-term game plan. We need to be prepared for a long, patient, and respectful conversation that speaks the truth in love and witnesses to the beauty of the Catholic faith. I think the resources that Brandon has assembled are a great gift to the Church.

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Comments (11)

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  1. Nick says:

    More than spiritual probing, what children desire is genuine interest and love. So a parent asking why they don’t go to church ought to be about them being genuinely interested in and out of love for their child. Just as a parent asks his or her child how school was when they pick them up.

  2. jim says:

    God bless you Fr. I know that you or good Fr A., our pastor will be the last priest to celebrate the last mass on this earth.

  3. Richard Connell says:

    “(we used to call that idolatry)”–That is an excellent insight. The late world chess champion, Bobby Fischer, once said that a person should be confident and that his confidence should be based on fact. When it comes to religion all the facts are on the side of the Catholics.

  4. Ann says:

    We can do everything right and still “fail” at this.
    My husband and I will do our best, but at the end of the day, I am not responsible for anyone’s salvation but my own, I hope!
    Including my children’s.
    I think parents need to be gentle with themselves on this.
    If you know you kept the faith and tried your best to transmit it, then you have done your best and it is out of your hands.
    I drifted from the Church but reverted.
    I remember my very devout grandmother always saying to us that she was praying for us and she did. Daily Mass and Rosary
    Perhaps it was her prayers that brought me back, I don’t know
    We need to do our best, pray, let go and let God.

    • elizabeth says:

      This woman really understands the subtle dynamics of living with and praying for unbelieving family members. It really can’t be boiled down to a method. And it really teaches us that we aren’t in control. She is correct about parents being gentle with themselves. I have shed more tears than I can count over my younger son. We share a small part of how pierced Christ’s heart was in Calvary when He knew that some would ignore his great act of mercy. Ultimately, prayer, fasting and trusting God is the solution.

  5. Diane Isabelle says:

    Thank you, Monsignor. I hope that this post will result in many returnees. I am one of those parents whose child has left the church. I don’t think that my son wants to discuss his absence from the church at this time. My last attempt was rebuffed. So I cannot use the Socratic method right now, but I will keep it in mind. I give him much love, have tried to gently plant seeds, and have said many prayers for his return. But it seems that his mind is closed very tightly. Maybe the Lord can help him to open it someday.

  6. William Sockey says:

    While good Catholic parents were focused on other things, their children were being taught in Catholic schools, first by nuns and then by lay teachers who replaced them (after they fell victim to their own progressive teaching and left their convents) that Catholic doctrine was only an opinion, that it might be out of touch with modern experience, that going to Mass was optional and the confession was only for those in mortal sin, while nobody really committed mortal sin. Our children were brainwashed by modern society, the errors of which were reinforced in the Catholic schools of the mid-60’s through at least the 90’s. We need to teach our children the truth about reality. The story of Fatima is a good beginning, including a verified public miracle in front of newspaper reporters, foretold 3 months in advance by 3 children and featured on History Channel.

  7. Bender says:

    How did the father respond when his prodigal son left? Did he run after him? Did he ask him why he left? Did he do anything else to “get” the son to come home?

    Or did he leave the son to learn his lesson, to sink into the misery of the worldly life? Did he leave the son to make the decision on his own, and simply leave the gate open? Tough love.

    Why did I, that prodigal son, come back? Because I was miserable, I was starving. In time, like that other prodigal son Augustine, whose mother did little except to pray for him, I would realize that what I needed was back where I had started.

    I had left in my youth because of the counterproductive witness of all those “pastoral” types who made the Church out to be some warm and fuzzy ball of fluff that was pretty useless for anything. Thanks to a saint of a pope, I came to understand that the real Church was a rock in the storm. But I needed to discover that on my own.

  8. Bee Bee says:

    I honestly believe the disconnect is in the high school years. I believe the catechesis is very weak for kids over 13 or 14 years old. I believe people go along thinking their kids are still connected, but it is during these years the kids are hearing viewpoints of their peers and of the world that are contrary to Church teaching. The kids aren’t saying anything about it to their parents, but since belonging is huge for a kid (and unfortunately for many adults too) the cracks begin to form (meaning, rejection of moral and religious ideas begins), often unseen.

    When the kid goes to college, the final break occurs because adults there (professors) are almost all atheist, and if they are not, they hide their faith behind a professional demeanor. Education at that level emphasizes rational and verifiable sorts of thinking, and by that very fact, religion is painted as a mythical belief system. The kids see that argument, and never having learned apologetics, agree, and belief in God is over. And that is not even taking into consideration the peer pressure of the immoral lifestyle often seen on college campuses.

    I believe that teenage kids need to be taught from the Catechism of the Catholic Church promulgated by John Paul II. I believe they need to be shown how to defend against arguments they hear in the media and at school even if they never voice them. It will actually put them in a situation of having to confront many of these issues and know what the Church teaches before facing it outside the home. And it would allow parents to surface the issues their children are dealing with and give the answer before the kid is hit with it by a very skilled and very atheistic professor that demolishes faith easily.

    So yes, programs to draw them back are great. But lets do something to stop losing them in the first place.

  9. RodH says:

    First, you can’t being all of them back. some have rejected the faith. Pray for them.

    I and my wife are converts and we led our adult children to the Church as well from an evangelical and more or less anti-Catholic background. 2 of the 3 have converted. One who has not, nevertheless with her husband attends Mass weekly and we are confidently praying it is just time now before they convert. Admittedly, we converted, but many of the same principles will apply to those who are nominally members but not committed to the Catholic faith.

    Chaos in leadership and the teaching of the Church has been a large obstacle. My kids are not stupid, and neither are yours! Don’t underestimate their ability to see pathetic weakness in leadership, about the only kind we have these days it seems and don’t underestimate the damage this does to their faith. Be strong! Love them and as CCC 1697 says; present to them the joys AND demands of the Gospel, not just the “mercy” part devoid of justice. Be HONEST. A partial message is a lie and you will be a liar presenting it.

    This Pope has made teaching non-Catholics extremely difficult and I suspect same applies to fallen-away Catholics. I can go on and on, but essentially, what is the point of converting or coming back if the faith is really no big deal and if God requires no essential relationship with the CHURCH or if you are encouraged to believe that whatever “relationship” you have with God and the Church is “OK”? The common teaching of post-Vatican 2 priests has all-too-often made a mockery of the Catholic faith. No wonder your kids have left! Gutless, weak, effeminate Bishops and those that are flatout heretics and now protected by the Pope cannot be ignored AND THESE THINGS DIRECTLY IMPACT YOUR CHILDREN. The broken-up nature of the message that comes from Catholic leaders, and has for at least half a century now, who downplay the doctrines of the faith are intensely significant. It MATTERS. Repeat: It MATTERS and you must be honest and address it clearly. I watch wonderful men like Dr’s Ralph Martin and Scott Hahn discuss the “New Evangelization” and inside I sometimes rage…because they are missing the point. We cannot have leaders who sit around dialoguing and discussing, We need bold leaders who will fight to defend the faith. Young people need heroes and there are precious few heroes in the Catholic Church. We need a true “Reformation” in the Church, a new spirit of warrior-theologians who are willing to name names (no matter whose name it is} and FIGHT to defend the faith just like what actually happened in the TRUE reformation, the Council of Trent. We must have clarity…and we don’t.

    So you must give it to your kids.

    First, you cannot do that if you yourself are clueless about the Catholic faith. So quit watching TV. STUDY the faith. Don’t buy into the Protestant garbage that it is only what is inside your “heart” that matters. No, God gave you a brain, use it. READ. Parents: study the Bible, the doctrines of the faith and to teach as the Old Testament taught us to teach in Dt 11:19; LIVE your faith and teach during the various non-religious moments of the day, which are most of the moments we have…convert the moments and let the Holy Spirit work. As you go about your day when appropriate, weave the truth of our Lord into the events of the day.

    You want your kids to be RE-converted? Then YOU convert!

    You cannot be a drunk, a whoremonger or just as bad, when you are asked about the faith says something ridiculous like “There are questions that, only if one is sincere with oneself and with the little theological light one has, must be responded to on one’s own”. This is the roadmap to hell.

    Tell them the truth and don’t lie and don’t be afraid to lose them.

    Or, do what many Bishops do including the Bishop of Rome. Soft peddle the message, pretend everyone is a “child of God”, downplay repentance and the Sacraments of the Church, convert it to pseudo-Protestant, vapid nonsense and go ahead and get used to sitting alone at Mass.

  10. RodH says:

    Mnsgr Pope, you are one whose writings I savor, but this topic is simply a tough one. It truly is.

    I see you didn’t post my suggestions. I’m not angry, and not surprised. Frankly, I don’t think many Catholics can handle just exactly the circus that the Church has become in the eyes of those outside who seek after truth {and including those who have left, often because of the wishywashy and pathetic substance of what the Catholic Church has become}. I never gave the Catholic Church a second thought as her witness was so universally poor {I grew up with Catholics} it seemed a waste of time to do so.

    And certainly I came to the Church because of the Truth of her teaching, NOT because of the truth that was taught or modeled by Catholics I knew or their femmy Priests. We need a Revolution of Righteousness in the Catholic Church. We need to hear actual preaching about Christian perfection and we need inspiration for MEN to be MEN. The world NEEDS the Catholic Church! Not the nonsense that the leadership spends so much effort and time dumping on the people of the world, selling the Gospel short.

    The TRUTH is HERE in the Church but it has been obscured by effeminacy of thought, word and deed {RAMPANT among priests} and a simply useless and weak vacillation about doctrine and inclination to support people “wherever they are” {whatever that means which usually means “You are just fine”} without proclaiming the Word of God, the Word of the reality and effects of sin, the need for repentance, and the reasonable assurance of grace that comes from a contrite heart before the throne of God.

    We need a message that resonates with men, not fruitcakes. And unfortunately the message the Church has taught and modelled for so long is tough for a young man to gag down. Give young people the respect they deserve! TEACH them the hard and tough truths along with the joys of the Gospel. Don’t shortchange them trying to “get them in”. Get them into what?

    Or, as I said, just keep analyzing the problem until the Church of Western Civilization goes the way of the Church of North Africa, swallowed by a tidal wave of pagans. {Pagans it should be noted who are now called our brothers in “belief”! Good heavens we even have a Pope who has kicked the Blessed Virgin off her throne and replaced her with the pagan goddess “Mother Earth”…….IN AN ENCYCLICAL! CCC 675 fruition? Maybe?}

    One personal note since I’m sure this one won’t get posted either. I thought the “Latin Mass” “thing” was quite the joke before I converted. But once I did convert, I had a hard time finding the teaching of the Catholic faith in Catholic parishes until…hard for me even to say it!…I found an FSSP parish and though it requires a long drive, is wholly worth it!! ME, LATIN?? LOL!! HA!! I am no major fan of Latin per se, but the worship is reverent, gives homage and honor to God, and the teaching is spot on. And WE are all in it together, the Priest leading, we all looking the same way!! How powerful is THAT?

    And…I LOVE to see children. You see, I bought into the Devil’s lie and contracepted who knows how many away! Just like all those Catholics that the modern Priests give a pass to.

    But at the FSSP…Families! Young men and young women! Old, too. The works!! Not a bunch of dead-faithed old, grayhaired and a few young contracepted Mass-goers who live no different a lifestyle than any Methodist or other non-Catholic yet get communed anyhow from Priests who don’t even teach or enforce the law of the Church.

    As my wife says; If you aren’t going to actually live and be Catholic, why not go fishing or sleep in on Sundays?

    God help the Catholic faith.

    {PS: I’ve been pretty hard here, maybe a little hyperbole, too. But only a little… 😉 }

    God bless you, Monsignor Pope. I really am with you. You especially, as I have read your stuff and am empowered by what you have to say.